Markel Murder trial day 1: Witnesses take the stand

Published: Sep. 26, 2019 at 9:20 AM EDT
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By: Julie Montanaro | WCTV Eyewitness News

September 26, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — We have in-court coverage of the Dan Markel murder trial. You can watch a

Dan Markel's family was in court Thursday as attorneys made their opening remarks.

Sigfredo Garcia and Katherine Magbanua are now on trial accused of conspiracy, solicitation and murder in the FSU law professor’s death.

Prosecutors claim it was all fueled by a custody battle and the promise of a six-figure payout.

"The window is shattered and he's spattered and can't answer."

Jim Geiger is still shook up. He's the neighbor who heard shots on July 18, 2014 only to discover Dan Markel bleeding behind the wheel of his car.

"I immediately said, 'Danny, what's happened?'" Geiger testified.

Geiger could never have imagined how the plot would unfold.

Investigators call it a murder for hire fueled by a custody battle over the Markel's children.

His ex-wife, prosecutors say, was desperate to move them to South Florida.

'Wendi Adelson had a problem and her problem was named Dan Markel and the solution was Magbanua, Rivera and Garcia."

Prosecutors told the jury the trio was paid 100 grand to carry out Markel's murder with co-defendant Luis Rivera - who has already accepted a plea deal - planning to take the stand and testify to that.

"The only person that could put Sigfredo Garcia at the scene, the only person who could tell you Sigfredo Garcia got out of the car and reportedly shot Dan Markel, is who? It's the guy who got seven years," defense attorney Saam Zangeneh said.

Magbanua's attorney claimed Katherine knew nothing about a murder plot.

"You will see for yourselves that she is completely innocent,” defense attorney Tara Kawass said. “The only thing she is guilty of is having horrible taste in men."

While prosecutors pointed heavily to the involvement of the Adelson family, neither Wendi nor any of her family members has been charged and all deny any involvement in the murder. Defense attorneys were quick to point that out to the jury.

"They're not in this courtroom today and they're not going to be here during this trial," Kawass said.

Testimony will continue Friday and is expected to last another three weeks.

Noon update

The first witness to take the stand was Dan Markel’s next door neighbor on Trescott Drive.

Jim Geiger testified that he heard what sounded like gunshots and saw a Prius pulling out of Markel’s driveway at a high rate of speed.

Geiger testified that there was shattered glass everywhere and Markel was in the drivers seat.

“Danny, what’s happened?” he said as he described Markel bloody, but still alive inside.

Geiger called 911. That call was played aloud in court, much of it was anxious silence, as he waited for first responders to get there.

The call went on for 14 minutes and 36 seconds, though Geiger said it felt like longer.

On cross examination, Geiger said he could not describe or identify the driver of the Prius and could not say how many people were in the car.

11:15 a.m. update

“Prosecutorial desperation.”

Katherine Magbanua’s attorney says that her client is “completely innocent” and contends “her major downfall is her taste in men.”

Defense attorney Tara Kawass said Magbanua and Garcia dated off and on for 10 years and have two children together.

Kawass says the two broke up in 2013 when she got tired of Garcia’s drinking, cocaine and other women. That’s when she says Magbanua started dating Charlie Adelson whom she met at a dental practice where she worked.

Kawass says the only reason Magbanua is here is because prosecutors are obsessed with arresting the Adelson family.

Where are the Adelsons? Why aren’t they charged? she asked the jury, “because they don’t have the evidence to do it.”

Kawass says there is an “innocent explanation” for all the so-called evidence against Magbanua.

She contends Magbanua did work for the Adelson’s dental practice and says the cash she deposited in her bank accounts came from her jobs as a bottle server at several Miami clubs.

Kawass called Dan Markel’s death a “horrific tragedy,” but says “justice does not come from convicting an innocent person.”

10:45 a.m. update

"Seven years."

Sigfredo Garcia’s attorney started his opening statements by maligning what he called "the deal of the century" that prosecutors gave co-defendant Luis Rivera for cooperating in this case.

Defense attorney Saam Zangeneh said prosecutors went after “the low hanging fruit” and “hitched their wagon to Luis Rivera.”

Zangeneh said Rivera is the head of the Latin Kings gang and a drug dealer.

He admitted that Garcia and Rivera came to Tallahassee, but says it was to conduct a drug deal, not to kill anyone.

“He is a pharmacy from soup to nuts,” Zangeneh said of Rivera.

Zangeneh said Rivera is the only one who can put Garcia in the car and the only one that can put a gun in Garcia’s hand.

10:30 am update

“Who would do such a thing?” Prosecutor Georgia Cappleman said as she described Dan Markel being shot and killed in his own garage, shattered glass scattered everywhere.

Cappleman described a neighbor’s 911 call and police officers “ominous” discovery: surveillance video showing a Prius following Markel to the gym and down Thomasville Road right before his murder.

Cappleman described his ex-wife Wendi Adelson’s statement to police and a comment she made that her brother had “looked into hiring a hit man” but decided it was cheaper to get her a TV.

Cappleman says investigators discovered the Markel’s contentious divorce and what she described as Wendi Adelson and her family’s “desperate” attempts to relocate the couple’s children to South Florida.

“Wendi had a problem and his name was Dan Markel,” the prosecutor said.

Cappleman claims Magbanua, Garcia and Rivera received $100,000 to kill Markel.

Cappleman says Garcia and Rivera called Magbanua right after the murder and said, “The job is done.” She claims Garcia and Rivera were paid in cash the next day.

Cappleman claims the men bought motorcycles and Magbanua got a car and breast implants soon afterward. Prosecutors contend Magbanua was then added to the payroll at the Adelsons dental practice and started making large cash deposits in multiple bank accounts.

Opening arguments are about to begin in the Dan Markel murder case more than five years after the FSU professor was gunned down in his garage.

Sigfredo Garcia and Katherine Magbanua are accused of conspiracy, solicitation and murder in Markel’s death.

Dan Markel’s family is in court, including his parents and his sister.

The state had hoped to call them to the witness stand to verify voices on a recording, but the judge said they would not be able to remain in court to listen to testimony if so. The state then released them from their subpoenas so they could remain in court.

Prosecutors wheeled in a cart full of evidence along with several large poster boards.

and two alternates in the jury box. Among the jurors is a nurse, a college student and a state worker.

The judge is now reading detailed jury instructions and cautioning jurors against watching any media coverage of the case and against discussing the case with anyone whether on line or in person.

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